While Riding a Bicycle

Just as Well

‘Bertrand Russell has described how one day in 1902 while riding a bicycle he suddenly realised that he was no longer in love with his first wife – and from this realisation there followed in time the break-up of that marriage. Kierkegaard would have said, and surely rightly, that any attitude whose absence can only be discovered in a sudden flash while riding a bicycle is only an aesthetic reaction and that such experience has to be irrelevant to the commitment which genuine marriage involves, to the authority of the moral precepts which define marriage.’

MacIntyre, After Virtue, chapter 4

I am not sure I agree with what MacIntyre thinks Kierkegaard would think. Surely there is a case that if one is able to hold any notion and ride a bicycle at the same time, then that notion is not ‘only an aesthetic reaction’ but rather represents one’s deepest convictions? I would wish to ask whether Kierkegaard had ever ridden a bicycle, or MacIntyre, come to that.

Statue of Elgar and his bicycle, by Jemma Pearson; outside Hereford Cathedral

Statue of Elgar and his bicycle, by Jemma Pearson; outside Hereford Cathedral

There is a whole thesis in this. What of Elgar, who rode a Royal Sunbeam? What of Burne-Jones? Burne-Jones gave up the attempt to learn to ride a bicycle; ‘but he did so with some regret, having heard of two young bicyclists, a man and a woman, perfect strangers, who “crashed at Ripley, were picked out of a hedge and woke up to find themselves in the same bed.”‘

I shall begin working immediately on The Bicycle as Moral Agent. Meanwhile you can be reading Penelope Fitzgerald, from whose biography of Burne-Jones the bicycle story comes, and who used it as the starting-point for the plot of her novel The Gate of Angels.

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